Friday, June 3, 2016

First Pitch

The fans of the University of Louisiana-Lafayette, like, say, your average Northeast fans, are pretty up front with the fact that they're going to be merciless towards you team when they play you.

The difference appears to be in two other parts.

First, the fans of the Ragin' Cajuns say "but don't worry. It's nothing personal." And then they invite you to come eat at their tailgate.

The scene at Tigue Moore Stadium should be pretty wild today when the NCAA baseball regional begins. Or at least hopefully begins.

The opener, at 1 CST, has Sam Houston State and Arizona. Princeton and UL-Lafayette play at 7 Central, or 8 Eastern.

The first story of this regional, though, could be the weather.

Lafayette has had massive downpours each of the two days Princeton has been here, and there's a chance of it in the forecast for the next three. The good news is that the stadium features nearly perfect FieldTurf with great drainage, and the staff here is confident that the games will get played.

TigerBlog doesn't want the weather to distract at all from the experience, because the experience here is supposed to be incredible.

Don't believe TB? As he left the pre-tournament meeting yesterday, he saw rows of RVs already parked in the field next to the baseball stadium. They came early to be ready for the party that is UL-Lafayette baseball.

Apparently, the seventh inning stretch is not to be missed. "Take Me Out To The Ballgame?" Not here. It's John Fogerty's "Centerfield," and apparently the crowd of around 4,000 dances throughout.

The day before the tournament was filled with team practices on the field. And the meeting.

TigerBlog has been to a bunch of these meetings. The NCAA rep goes through the checklist, making sure all matters are covered pertaining to the games, facilities, credentials, TV, parking, etc.

They take about 45 minutes or so, and then everyone leaves.

Not so fast. This being Lafayette, there was no leaving until everyone sampled the snack - the Cajun snack, including crawfish and rice and beans.

Princeton's practice was fairly fast-paced. Everyone took some swings. A few drove the ball over the fence.

The Tigers appeared to be a loose, confident group - and a close one. They are here after a 7-32 season a year ago, which makes Princeton one of the best turnaround stories in college baseball probably in recent years.

The difference between Princeton and the other three is dramatic. The other three teams in the regional combined for nearly 50 games in the month of May.

Princeton? The Tigers played three. Between May 1 and today, which is June 3, Princeton played only on May 14 and May 15, defeating Yale in three games to win the Ivy League championship series.

The pitching matchup for tonight will be Princeton junior Chad Powers, who is 6-3 with a 2.07 ERA, and UL-Lafayette freshman righty Nick Lee, who is 7-1 with a 3.18 ERA.

The home team has reached the last two Super Regionals, something no Ivy League school has ever done, TB believes. The winner of this regional will take on the winner of the Mississippi State regional, and it's pretty obvious that UL-Lafayette is thinking about going on a nice run here in June, maybe all the way to Omaha.

If Princeton is looking for precedent, there's the regional here two years ago, when the fourth-seed, Jackson State, knocked off UL-Lafayette 1-0. Still, the home team came all the way back to advance.

TigerBlog went out to dinner last night with representatives on the other three schools, as well as the producer and director and on-air voices for ESPN3, who will be broadcasting the games. TB went with gumbo and more crawfish.

This is crayfish season, TB learned. And he had frog legs for the first time. Everyone says they taste just like chicken, and they do, but that's not the problem. The problem is that they still look like frog legs. 

Oh, and the ESPN3 guys? They said what TV people always say after they talk to Princeton athletes. They said how incredibly impressed they were with them. 

In his conversations with the people from other schools, TigerBlog also had it crystallized for him that college baseball in huge in this area of the country. It's not college football, but it's huge.

TB was asked if Princeton had radio for baseball, and he said no, but Princeton does have radio for men's lacrosse. Really? That's crazy, one of the UL-Lafayette guys said.

A person with the right attitude is Scott Bradley, the Princeton head coach. He, like TigerBlog, wants the weather to be good so the players can get the full experience of baseball here.

And Bradley wants to win.

He is very polished when being interviewed, and he gives all the right answers about his team, his opponent and his sport. He's been here before, most recently in 2011, but TigerBlog can tell that his one is extra special to him after last year.

With the games about to start, it's time to focus on the outcomes and seeing if Princeton can extend its stay here.

Earlier in the day, TigerBlog went over to the campus store along with Seth Dorsey from the business office and Clif Perry, the equipment manager. Jess Guerriero, who works with Seth, had asked him to get her a shirt, and in very 2016 fashion, he FaceTimed with her to show her the choices in the store.

TigerBlog got a shirt too, a nice red dri-fit that says "Ragin' Cajuns" on it. He'll wear it with pride this summer.

Why wouldn't he? The Ragin' Cajuns seem pretty easy to root for.

Just not tonight, of course.

Weather permitting.


Steven Feldman '68 said...

Princeton's baseball team appearance in the NCAA tournament should help its rankings in the Learfield Director's Cup rankings. The latest rankings show the Tigers holding on to 25th place right after Florida State in 24th place.

Michael Campora said...

We hope you guys enjoyed the trip as much as we enjoyed watching your baseball team. After breaking down the numbers, I must admit I didn't expect much of a fight from the Tigers. After watching both games, I certainly came away with a new respect for your program. You guys were very salty. When the team sat in the stands to watch part of game 1 between Arizona and Sam Houston and section A immediately began harassing your players, your guys smiled, laughed and gave some witty banter in return. I knew I had found a new team to pull for, obviously when we aren't playing each other. I wish the weather would've been a little better for your trip, but I hope you guys enjoyed the experience despite the heavy rains. Safe travels home and God Bless.

Mary Beth Carrier said...

Of course we love to have fun and I have laughed so many times because I have heard so many have been pleasantly surprised by our version of the 7th inning stretch - it's normal to us but it's so cool to know how many people have enjoyed it.

We have seen y'all, Tigers, BearKats, & Wildcats clapping & joining in the celebration.

Hoping you got your fill of great food and that we will see y'all again someday; hopefully on a sunny day.
#GeauxCajuns #RoadToOmaha